Production Journal: "These Days" - Preproduction



Hello all.

I recently started a production journal for a feature I am shooting on a different forum ( Today I received an email asking if I would be willing to also post it here. So the following is just cut & pasted from the other forum:

Based on David’s model, and how well that was received I am starting a production journal for a feature I am shooting for 30 days; starting June 27th. The project is called “These Days”, and will be directed by Chad McQuay.

The project is an extremely low budget feature with a shooting schedule that is a little too short for the material and all the locations (there are many).

The story is fairly complex, so I will let the summery that the writer/ director created speak for itself:
“Set in Los Angeles during the opening days of the War in Iraq, "These Days" examines the lives of ordinary young Americans struggling to cope with the world around them. The film is told through a series of vignettes, from which four central stories emerge, each of the character's lives distinctly linked to the next. By overlapping the narratives, deftly moving back and forth across a timeline a la "Amores Perros", "Pulp Fiction", etc, these chance encounters build to a crescendo.

There's Tara, a young black woman plagued with a gripping fear of death after being attacked outside her apartment complex. Darrin, her neighbor, is torn between his girlfriend and an old flame who's returned from overseas. Anne, Darrin's filmmaker girlfriend, distracts herself from the love triangle by attempting to help her documentary subject Travis deal with his anger towards the world. Finally, Shawn, a scraggly-haired musician, struggles with feelings of guilt over a fatal car accident.”

The cast is a nice mix of talented new comers, as well as several very seasoned performers such as Kurtwood Smith and Beth Grant. All very understated, all very well cast. This project is so character driven that the casting was unusually critical (in my opinion).

The script is also quite good, and is able to take the above structure which has been done many times before in very interesting directions. The point of this film is not to reinvent the genre, but to do it justice.

The director and I had discussions about how to differentiate the various stories visually from one and other, and what to do when they intertwine. We decided not to take extreme measures in the look for each character. The differences will be subtle ones, mostly in the art direction. The color pallet will not be particularly extreme for any character, just a slight bias towards warmer, cooler, or neutral colors depending on whose story we are in.

As I said, this project is extremely low budget so generally things are tight in all departments. This project was set to shoot last year. We got very close to shooting, but due to last minute changes in actor availability, the producers decided that we would not be well enough prepared to continue forward (which was probably the right choice). At the same time “Lost” got picked up, so off Chad went to Hawaii for this last year, revising the script and raising more money.

Over the course of the previous prep the question of what format we were going to shoot was up in the air some. It went from DVX100 to HDCam, slight murmurs about S16, to SDX900, back to DVX. I am actually okay with this choice. I like the camera, and have gotten results that I was very happy with in the past. We will be shooting in a lot of practical apartments, with several characters in some scenes moving around a lot. The camera’s small size will help facilitate that. Plus, the fact that the format we are shooting will have little impact on the budget helps everyone else’s department. All around everyone got some more money for equipment, etc.
There are quite a few locations. As I said, small apartments are major locations in the film. It is still up in the air as to if we can build at least two of the apartments (the main ones) on a stage to give us more flexibility all around.

We also have several driving scenes, a car crash, some bar scenes, a large war protest (which a 2nd unit had shot already when there was an actual war protest going on), several night exteriors, and more small apartments . . . with a lot of dialogue we will have to move extremely fast to meet our 30 day schedule.

My lighting style for this project will be as un-intrusive as possible. Mostly lighting from outside of the windows in such a way that gives the actor and camera freedom of movement without a lot of relighting. To facilitate lighting from outside the windows of these practical apartments, my gaffer, Chris Hughes, designed a rig which is a “menace arm” that arms a small HMI (usually a 1.2k PAR) out about 6 feet from the window with a pulley system to allow for easy panning of the light.

It is very hard to come up with a lighting and grip package that is flexible enough for our various locations, yet cheap enough to work for us. The issue is not only money for gear, but money for crew as well. Based on that, we decided not to get any large (heavy) fresnel units. Originally we were going with 12ks for our “big guns”, but decided that because it really takes 3 guys to head up the unit, they would slow us down way too much, and be too big for most of our locations. Thus we are going with a very small package. Our main lighting units will be 2 – 4k HMI PARs, 2 – 1.2k HMI PARs, and Kino Flos. If you are curious about the details of our grip and electric package, you can view the full list here:

That’s it for now. I will do my best to keep this thing updated if anyone is interested, but I am no David Mullen, I don’t know if I will be able to update as frequently as he can . . . I will try however.

Kevin Zanit


Update Two

Update Two

Still prepping. Having more discussions with the director about how best to cover a lot of the long dialogue scenes efficiently. We will most likely use two cameras for a lot of the scenes, but not shooting against each other. They will be on the same axis, one shooting closer coverage and inserts. If a second camera is hurting the lighting a lot, or just getting in the way I simply won’t use it, but it is good to have the option of using both.

We have decided on an aspect ratio to mask for. It will be 1.85. A big factor in that decision, to me, was if we shoot in a studio or practical location. Although 1.85 is not particularly wide, in a small cramped apartment it can be killer on where I can put stands and other various pieces of equipment. If we are on a stage, I can light from the grid thus eliminating any of my concerns. That said, 1.85 is not that wide, so it is not a huge problem, but it can become a factor of time in these small rooms.

From a creative standpoint, 1.85 suits the story well. Its target is festivals, so I would rather see 1.85 projected than 1.33, plus it is more standard, so I am happy with the choice of 1.85.

On the subject of lighting equipment, I have never been a big fan of Chimeras. Mainly I never used them all that much, but shooting in these small spaces (as I have done a lot of recently on music videos) makes me appreciate them more. This will be one the first narrative pieces I have done that I have extensively used them on, but they help so much in keeping the spill and bounce back from the lighting units and diffusion under control that I am a convert, thus I have ordered a few for this show.

Also, for anyone interested in the equipment side, here is a revised equipment list (based on location scouts, etc, etc):

Kevin Zanit
Looking at your package, I'd consider more Kinos -- maybe adding an 8-bank Image-80 and two 4' single-banks, plus a 2' 2-bank (easy to mount over a lens).

I'd also consider a spot or narrow spot PAR64 tungsten, a lot of bang for your buck if you're ever short on power and need a lot of punch or throw for a 1K.

Make sure your grip package has some mini versions of c-stands, baby stands, etc.

I often have my grips cut some showcard black barndoors to be clipped to Kino doors as extenders.

You can tell I shoot a lot in small locations with limited power...

Good luck!


Thanks David,

Good point about the short C-Stands, etc (we have about 3 on the grip list).

I would like to carry an Image 80, but due to the vendor this package is coming from, and the deal we are getting, it most likely won’t be in the budget.

We actually do have some 2x2 Kinos, but just on a separate list (one that has a few items that are coming from a separate vendor).

The PARs are coming from my gaffer. I love PAR cans for the same reason you stated, a ton of punch for the money.

Good point about the single tub 4' Kinos, can be great practical (especially in bar scenes), I may try and add a few.

Our previous package was more Kino heavy, and then a deal for this package came along. It has a lot more tungsten, which is good because I will end up doing a decent amount of night for day INT work, so having more units will be handy.

Thanks for the input!

Kevin Zanit


New member
Chimeras - ya gotta love Chimeras! i could spend all day lighting faces off one Chimera!
i love these journals! please try keep it up Kevin! Its all good